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Sunday, September 20, 2020

A new sign for the Arcadia Theater

The Arcadia Theater, downtown Kerrville, 1948 --
a $100,000 renovation project.
This week ‘Arcadia Live,’ the group renovating the Arcadia Theater in downtown Kerrville, watched as crewmembers of the JK Bernhard Construction Company fitted a new “blade” to the front of the old theater. (I learned this year the illuminated sign in front of a theater is called a “blade.” I had no idea.)
I posted a snapshot of the new sign on my personal Facebook page, and immediately the comments began to stream in, most of them positive.
Several of the negative comments said, in so many words, that the commenter preferred “the original” sign. 
The Arcadia Theater's original blade

I get it – I also have trouble with change, and am prone to more bouts of nostalgia than the average bear – but the old Arcadia sign recently renovated and moved to the rear of the building is not actually the ‘original’ sign which graced the Arcadia. The sign most of us remember was installed in 1948, when the Arcadia underwent extensive remodeling, including a complete replacement of the original 1926 fa├žade and ‘blade.’
The November 18, 1948 edition of the Kerrville Mountain Sun, in a front-page story, reported “Arcadia Theatre to hold formal opening tonight.”
The story told of the many improvements made that year, at a reported cost of $100,000:
“The Arcadia Theatre, after having been closed seven months for remodeling, will open this evening at six o’clock, when the people of the Hill Country will be permitted to see one of the finest and most modern places of entertainment to be found. The Hall Industries, of which Henry Hall of Beeville is president, have made every possible effort to provide the utmost in comfort and convenience in this new home of motion picture entertainment for their patrons.”
The projection screen was enlarged, from 12x16 feet to 15x20; the number of seats was increased from 900 to 1,050; new projection equipment was installed; a new sound system ‘made by RCA’ was installed; the entire building was fireproofed; new carpet was installed; new steel seating was installed, ‘upholstered with mohair and leatherette.’
The Arcadia Theater's new blade, 2020

One of the 1948 improvements – which people of a certain age will certainly remember – was the ‘Cry Room,’ which could seat 16 people, and intended for use by families with small children. It was “sound proofed and air-conditioned, and has two regular rows of theater seats as well as two divans. The individual volume control will be a delight to the occupants of that room, who are probably used to listening with children crying.”
(I’ll admit this: When I was a child, I thought the Cry Room was for people who became overly emotional during the sad portions of a movie; a space where they could cry without being ridiculed for their tears. I have no memory of anyone ever using the Cry Room, though I’m sure it found use for reasons other than tearful small children.)
The new ‘blade’ installed this week is an attempt to bring back a representation of the original 1926 Arcadia ‘blade.’ It is not an exact duplicate, for several reasons.
First, there are not clear images – taken in color – of that original Arcadia sign. Or at least I have not seen them.
Click to enlarge and compare signs
Second, reading the description of that original 1926 sign makes it sound a bit like a fire hazard prone to mechanical failure. 
Here’s what I’ve written elsewhere about that sign: “The first sign was about 15 feet high and extended six feet above the building, with 16” letters. The lighting flashed on and off at intervals, but was not neon; the coloring of the letters was done by placing ‘glass color hoods’ over the lamps, and red and green and amber were the predominate colors. There was a twinkling torch and a ‘flowing’ border driven by an electric motor.”
Like that original 1926 sign, the new sign is smaller than the 1948 sign (which was restored and placed at the rear of the Arcadia building, overlooking a deck with a view of the Guadalupe River below.) The 1948 sign was described as a “modernistic green, towers 42 feet [above the sidewalk], and is of green discs, with alternating red and green neon lights. The sodium vapor light at the top of the staff is an iridescent blue, and can be seen for four miles.”
The Arcadia Live group is renovating the old theater as a performance space for music and other entertainments; the space will also be available for private events. Like you, I look forward to seeing all the changes which have been carefully made over the last months.
I’m very thankful the Arcadia Theater is getting a new chance to be a place where people gather – especially after the building being vacant and dark for so long.
Until next week, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who was a frequent customer of the Arcadia Theater, starting in the late 1960s. This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times September 19, 2020. 

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